As I write this Governor Romney has not yet made his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention. However, of all the speeches so far, I enjoyed Condoleezza Rice’s the most for two reasons.
First, she focused on general principles.
As Hayek wrote more than sixty years ago in The Constitution of Liberty:
If old truths are to retain their hold on men’s minds, they must be restated in the language and concepts of successive generations…It has been a long time since that ideal of freedom which inspired modern western civilization, and whose partial realization made possible the achievement of that civilization was effectively restated.
If we are to succeed in the great struggle of ideas that is under way, we must first of all know what we believe; we must also become clear in our minds as to what it is that we want to preserve if we are to keep ourselves from drifting.
The former secretary of state spoke of an America based on the ideas that Hayek was referring to. “The essence of America—that which really unites us—is not ethnicity, nationality, or religion—it is an idea—and what an idea it is: that you can come from humble circumstances and do great things,” she said. “That it doesn’t matter where you come from but where you are going.”
I teach at a program – entitled “What is America?” – that Hillsdale College offers three times a year in various locations across the country. Her point echoes a key facet of the program. The foundation for her truism – that Americans believe in the morality of success and the ability to accomplish it – are found in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Americans believe in individual liberty, responsibility,and free markets.
“Where does America stand?” she said.”When our friends and our foes, alike, do not know the answer to that question — clearly and unambiguously — the world is a chaotic and dangerous place. The U.S. has since the end of World War II had an answer — we stand for free peoples and free markets, we are willing to support and defend them — we will sustain a balance of power that favors freedom.”
But not only do other countries not know where America stands, many of our citizens do not know either. Which leads me to the second reason I enjoyed her speech.
She pointed out that our public school system has failed – and that it is a threat to our national identity and ability to compete in a competitive world. I also liked that she noted our worst schools are in minority areas – and the solution is allowing school choice just as consumers would choose any other product. As she put it:
And we need to give parents greater choice – particularly poor parents whose kids – most often minorities are trapped in failing neighborhood schools. This is the civil rights struggle of our day. If we do anything less, we will condemn generations to joblessness, hopelessness and dependence on the government dole.
Hayek wrote that a free society demands more than any other that people be held responsible for their actions. A society dependent upon its government for entitlements and guidance cannot be free. With 55 million Americans receiving Social Security benefits, 48 million on Medicare, and more than 63 million dependent on Medicaid, Rice’s point about dependency needs to be taken seriously. As Thomas Jefferson put it: “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”
The Romney-Ryan ticket embodies Rice’s call for returning to an America that stands for freedom, global leadership, and individual success. The choice in November will be stark. It will require that Americans turn away from dependency, despotism, and the politics of envy – and towards what Ronald Reagan called that “shining city on a hill.” A city where liberty, responsibility, and true compassion for one’s neighbors are the prominent features of life.
(Dr. Gary L. Wolfram is the William E. Simon Professor in Economics and Public Policy at Hillsdale College. Find him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/GaryWolfram. And on Twitter at @Gary_Wolfram. Originally posted on The Michigan View.)